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Supreme Court President launches Jewish Family Life and Customs booklet

Board of Deputies brings 2006 booklet up to date

Board of Deputies Family Life and Customs booklet launch

The President of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, this week spoke at the launch of the Board of Deputies' booklet, Jewish Family Life and Customs: A Practical Guide.

Speaking at the Supreme Court, Lady Hale said that the Board of Deputies "should be congratulated" for producing a document which is "for all those legal professionals seeking to understand the Jewish community".

In her speech, Lady Hale also praised her counterparts at the Israeli Supreme Court which, she said "deserves our support whenever we can give it to them".

The booklet Jewish Family Life and Customs: A Practical Guide is intended for lawyers and judges who are working with Jewish clients and Jewish contexts who need a trusted resource that provides baseline understanding of Jewish practices. It is a new edition of a booklet that was previously published in 2006. In the meantime much has changed in the wider legal context – from marriage laws to coroners' practices.

The launch was attended by more than 100 people, including senior legal professionals, parliamentarians and communal figures. Also speaking were Eleanor Platt QC, chair of the Board of Deputies' Family Law Group and a co-editor of the guide; President Jonathan Arkush and Vice President Marie van der Zyl.

Eleanor Platt writes:

"Those who work in the legal profession face a challenge in a multicultural society. Lawyers and judges must deal with facts. Usually physical facts can be accessed and determined. An object can be measured. A physical act can be described without context. A contract can be quoted.

Social facts may not be immediately obvious to the outside observer, even if they are important to those who share in their meanings. Most communities in a multicultural society have their own set of social facts. They add a deeper layer of meaning to everyday actions, and are critical to the understanding of people's lives.

It is not just religious and ethnic communities that have these sets of social facts – so does the legal profession. The titles bestowed on judges, or the garments and wigs worn by them, can be described in merely physical terms. Titles can be reduced to letters, or a robe described in terms of its colour or thread, but such descriptions would fail to capture the social reality of these clothes and honours. They convey a dignity bestowed upon the judge, which is understood by all those who engage with them in a legal context. By extension, they show a respect for the rule of law in general on which the entire legal system rests.

It would not be wrong to state that social facts elevate our everyday lives, giving them greater meaning. In a monocultural society, if one has ever existed, it can be assumed that all people understand the same set of social facts. However, in a multicultural country, those who work in the legal profession must educate themselves in how the different communities understand their lives through their social facts.

For those legal professionals who work with Jewish clients, or in Jewish contexts, knowing the community's practices around mourning, or the initiation of boys and girls into greater responsibility, or the Sabbath and festivals, is of important practical use. In addition, an understanding of the social reality that they underpin is also vital.

The regulations of the Jewish Sabbath, for example, may often sound like a series of draconian restrictions around electricity and work. However for those who observe the Sabbath it is, in fact, a positive act. It may be that for up to six days a week they spend most of their time as a wage earner, or a pupil, or dutiful fulfiller of household chores. But for one day a week, they primarily act as a parent or a child or as a member of their community.

That social fact underpins the Sabbath, giving meaning to the inability to perform, for example, jury service late on a Friday afternoon in the winter, or the need to leave work early on such days.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews' Jewish Family Life and Customs: A Practical Guide explains Jewish practices, such as the Sabbath, and the underlying social context.

It is a concise reference resource from a trusted organisation. The Board of Deputies has served British Jews for more than 250 years, and is led by democratic representation from across community, ensuring credibility and authority in its materials.

It is a vital publication in a multicultural society, and we hope that those who seek to serve Jewish citizens will find it informative and useful."

The Practical Guide also includes a handy contacts listing at the back where professionals can find out more if they need to on aspects of Jewish life.

It is available in hard copy format, or downloadable from the Board of Deputies website.